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Friday briefing: Trump’s science adviser pick says ‘politics shouldn’t interfere with research’

Your essential round-up of the week’s top science news

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Hello Nature readers,

Today we boggle at a bone from what might have been the planet’s largest dinosaur and reveal our pick of the best images, features and culture from the week in science.

Droegemeier gestures as he speaks into a microphone on a podium in the Bizzell Library at Univ. Oaklahoma

Kelvin Droegemeier, seen here at the University of Oklahoma, is US President Donald Trump's nominee for science adviser.Credit: Travis Caperton, Univ. Oklahoma

‘Politics shouldn’t interfere with research’

That’s the opinion of US President Donald Trump’s pick for science adviser, Kelvin Droegemeier, who made the point at his nomination hearing yesterday. However, the extreme-weather scientist equivocated on whether doubts about the human role in climate change should be included in policy decisions. Droegemeier raised the issue of sexual harassment in research, saying that he will take on this problem if confirmed to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Nature | 3 min read

Corals might not find refuge down deep

Preliminary data suggest that reefs in the dimly lit ‘mesophotic zone’, 30-150 metres below the ocean surface, are more vulnerable to storms and climate change than researchers had suspected. That casts doubt on a long-standing hope that deep-water corals could serve as refuges for marine life displaced from increasingly threatened shallow reefs.

Nature | 5 min read

Mum’s a Neanderthal, Dad’s a Denisovan

A female thought to be at least 13 years old, who died around 90,000 years ago, is the first-ever person known to be half Neanderthal and half Denisovan. Researchers identified her from a genomic analysis of a bone fragment found in a Siberian cave. Scientists already knew that Denisovans and Neanderthals bred with each other, given genetic variation between ancient and modern humans, but the ancient female is the first time a direct descendant of the two distinct human groups has been found. “To find a first-generation person of mixed ancestry from these groups is absolutely extraordinary,” says population geneticist Pontus Skoglund.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: Nature paper

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The concrete battery

Hydroelectric dams turn gravitational potential energy into electricity — and can also store energy by pumping water back up when supply outstrips demand. A prototype energy plant aims to show that a huge stack of blocks can do essentially the same thing. Towers of waste concrete, moved by robot cranes, could store excess power without the need for waterfalls and reservoirs. If it works, it could offer a low-tech way of helping to solve one of the most pressing problems in renewable energy: the cost of storage.

Quartz | 7 min read

BREAKTHROUGHS YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

Radiotherapy for the most common brain cancer in children, medulloblastoma, impairs their ability to form certain types of memory. A year or more after treatment, kids recalled fewer details of the parties and trips that happened afterwards.

Nature Research Highlights | 1 min read

Reference: The Journal of Neuroscience paper

Get more of Nature’s Research Highlights: short picks from the latest papers.

FEATURES & OPINION

No excuses for non-reproducible methods

After spending the first year and a half of his postdoc working out a protocol for single-cell microscopy, Lenny Teytelman decided to launch a central repository for updating protocols and sharing tips. He says that mobile-friendly, web-based technologies are finally ready to tackle the well-recognized need to improve reproducibility.

Nature | 4 min read

The blood price paid for batteries

Cobalt is an essential ingredient in the lithium-ion batteries that power smartphones, electric cars and other trappings of the modern world. Two-thirds of the world’s cobalt supply is produced in one of the world’s poorest regions: the southeastern province of Lualaba in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Fortune goes to witness the child labour and corruption that feeds our insatiable global hunger for batteries — and explores what solutions might be found on the ground.

Fortune | 22 min read

The lies live on

Bone specialist Yoshihiro Sato faked the data for dozens of studies whose findings rippled through the field. Science investigates how ‘gift authorship’, failed peer review and reticent journals exacerbated the lie — and how tenacious whistleblowers gave years of their lives to prove it.

Science | 19 min read

NATURE PODCAST

In this week’s Nature Podcast: colony size and labour division in ants, and simulating a quantum system on a quantum computer.

Nature Podcast | 25 min listen

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INFOGRAPHIC OF THE WEEK

Wind-mapping satellite finally launches after 19 years in the works

SCIENTIFIC LIFE

Mental exercises to become a better presenter

Scientists can get bogged down in detail and flummoxed by nerves when it’s time to stand up in front of an audience. That can lead to presentations that are prepared for themselves rather than their audiences. Slide-maestro David Rubenson offers his top tips for how to put yourself in your listeners’ shoes.

Nature | 5 min read

Alphabetical author lists distort careers

When fields usually list authors in alphabetical order, it changes the way researchers work and publish. For example, researchers with A-surnames are significantly more likely than people with Z-surnames to gain tenure at a top-ten economics department. The effect is not lost on scientists: they tend to tweak their names to move up the queue. Authors with the ‘van’ prefix before their surnames drop it from bylines more often than those whose surnames start with ‘de’.

Nature Index | 7 min read

Reference: Research Evaluation paper

IMAGE OF THE WEEK

Credit: Miguel Lo Bianco/Reuters

Palaeontologists Cecilia Apaldetti and Ricardo Martínez stand next to a bone from what might have been the planet’s largest dinosaur, Ingentia prima. The gigantic specimen, discovered in Argentina and described in July, is more than 200 million years old. It probably came from one of the earliest giant sauropods — which weighed up to 10 tonnes — and changes our understanding of how dinosaurs in this lineage grew to such immense sizes.

Reference: Nature Ecology & Evolution paper

See more of the month’s sharpest science shots, selected by Nature’s photo team.

BOOKS & ARTS

Ageing tips from ancient Greece

Prodigious Greek physician Galen pioneered the idea of the ‘healthspan’ — the length of time a person enjoys optimal health — way back in AD 175. A medically informed translation of Galen’s classic text, written by a former neuroscientist, illuminates how the ancients saw ageing.

Nature | 6 min read

Five best science books this week

Barbara Kiser’s pick of the top five science books to read this week includes the ancient seeds of the opioid crisis, a love letter to physics and a ticket to the termite circus.

Nature | 2 min read

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Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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